Armstrong grabs the early initiative on Snowman Rally
Jock Armstrong and co-driver Paula Swinscoe piloted their Subaru Impreza to a hard-fought win on the opening round of the 2015 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championsihp, the Arnold Clark Thistle Snowman Rally.
The traditional Inverness-based season opener celebrated its 60th anniversary in typical fashion with extremely challenging and unpredictable road conditions facing the competitors over the 5 stages.
With the front runners struggling through the snowy and very icy first stage, Steven Clark and Phil Sandham took full advantage of their lower starting position to take an early lead in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 5. Despite dropping some time with an off-road excursion near the end of the first stage, they held a 15 second lead after 2 stages over Armstrong/Swinscoe and the newer Evo of Bruce McCombie & Michael Coutts.
Running first on the road, 5 time Scottish Champions David Bogie& Kevin Rae were down in a lowly 29th place after the first stage in their Fiesta R5+. They bounce back immediately with a fastest time on stage 2 but were forced to retire at first service with clutch problems.
After a first stage which saw them languishing in 20th place, Mike Faulkner & Peter Foy finally ignited their challenge with fastest time by a whopping 19 seconds on the long 3rd stage at Strathrory, leapfrogging up to 2nd place as a result.
Two consecutive top 3 times, coupled with an off-road excursion into retirement for the Clark/Sandham Evo, saw Armstrong/Swincoe take the lead and open up a narrow 8 second gap to Faulkner/Foy’s Evo 9 going into the final stage, with the similar car of McCombie/Coutts only 1 second further back.
The large crowds of spectators on the final stage were in for a treat and Armstrong/Swincoe kept their best till last, their first fastest stage time of the day sealing a well-earned victory by 16 seconds despite suffering manifold problems on their Impreza. Faulkner/Foy’s charge back up the field was blunted when their Evo punctured towards the end of the final snowy stage, dropping them to 3rd behind a delighted McCombie/Coutts who recorded their best ever SRC result.
Even more delighted with 4th place were local crew Donnie Macdonald & Andrew Falconer, their Evo 9 finally reaching a rally finish after a fruitless season in 2014. Barry Groundwater and new co-driver Sean Donnelly were 5th in their Evo after a very consistent run of stage times, ahead of Mark McCulloch and late stand-in co-driver Michael Hendry, another crew delighted with their result first time out in a Lancer.
Championship returnees Shaun Sinclair & Chris Hamill ran as high as 5th early on and despite dropping back to an eventual 7th place they showed that they have lost none of their speed.
8th overall was a great result for the new combination of Andrew Gallacher & Jane Nicol, in their unique Fiesta-bodied Evo. Having only completed the car the previous evening and not arriving in Inverness until 4am, they were immediately on the pace, even taking a fastest time on the 4th stage. An unfortunate road penalty dropped them from what would have been 4th overall to 8th.
The Hyundai Accent WRC of John Rintoul & Ross Hynd finished 9th overall and first in class 13, 9 seconds ahead of former Snowman winners Reay Mackay & Robert Macdonald who had swapped their Impreza WRC for the ex-Shaun Sinclair Evo 6.
In the 2 wheel drive battle, 2014 SRC Junior champion Greg McKnight and dad Chris were the early pace-setters in their 1600 Mk2 Escort. However, they retired in stage 3 with a broken shock absorber, leaving the way clear for the 2-litre Mk2 of Malcolm Buchanan & Ian Nicoll to win the category battle and class 8 in 14th place overall despite feeling a bit ring-rusty on their first event for a couple of years.
The Mk1 Escort of Alford’s Willie Stuart & Neil Ewing from Largs was the only finisher in the historic class after the Ford Anglia of locals Allan Mackay & Charlie Donaldson was forced to retire with mechanical damage at the end of stage 3.
First time out in a 2-litre Honda Civic, local crew Ross Macdonald& Matthew Johnstone won class 7 in 20th place overall, one place ahead of class 5 winners Duncan Macdonald & Neil Ross from Skye. Headed initially by the similar car of Glenshiel’s Paddy Munro & Chris Munro from Portree over the first stage, Macdonald/Ross then surged up the leaderboard to 21st overall. With the Munros retiring off the road in stage 2, another Mk2 in the hands of John O’Kane from Kyle of Lochalsh and local co-driver George Finlayson took the runner-up spot.
Many of the fancied class 4 runners fell by the wayside early in the day but the MG ZR of brothers Carl & Rob Tuer were delighted to survive to take their first class 4 victory on the Snowman after coming so close last year.
Stewarton pairing Robert Harkness & Russell Fair bounced back after a slow time on stage 2 to claim class 9 honours, with the BMW 120 of Donald & Rachel Brooker the only other registered finishers, almost coming to grief at a hairpin near the start of the final stage.
From a start number of 104, the 8-valve 1600 Talbot Sunbeam of Alford crew Scott Beattie & Fraser Gellan were 33rd quickest in stage 1 and stayed ahead of their class rivals throughout the remainder of the day to take the class 3 spoils. The Peugeot 205 of Simon Hay & Calum Jaffray were a lowly 72nd after stage 1 but thereafter kept pace with the leading class 3 crew to climb up to 2nd in class by the end of the day.
Muir of Ord’s Thomas Gray took class 2 honours by almost 5 minutes, finishing 39th out of 73 classified finishers first time out in a Toyota Yaris co-driven by Huntly’s David Law.
5 different stage winners would suggest that this year’s championship battle will be very hard to predict. Round 2 is the Border Counties Rally on March 21st, based once more in Jedburgh but using stages in the Tweed Valley which have not seen a rally car for many years and which will be new territory for most of the competitors.
Arnold Clark Thistle Snowman Rally: Top Ten Finishers with total times.
1. Jock Armstrong (Castle Douglas) / Paula Swincoe (Chorley) Subaru Impreza
2. Bruce McCombie (Banchory) / Michael Coutts (Torphins) Mitsubishi Evo
3. Mike Faulkner (Aspatria) / Peter Foy (Bingley) Mitsubishi Evo 9
4. Donnie Macdonald (Inverness) / Andrew Falconer (Inverness) Mitsubishi Evo 9
5. Barry Groundwater (Stonehaven) / Sean Donnelly (Elgin) Mitsubishi Evo 9
6. Mark McCulloch (Newton Stewart / Michael Hendry (Elgin) Mitsubishi Evo 9
7. Shaun Sinclair (Oban) / Chris Hamill (Oban) Mitsubishi Evo 8
8. Andrew Gallacher (Hurlford) / Jane Nicol (Edinburgh) Ford Fiesta
9. John Rintoul (Leven) / Ross Hynd (Inverbervie) Hyundai Accent WRC
10. Reay Mackay / Robert Macdonald (Fort Augustus) Mitsubishi Evo 6
Final results and more news available from the championship website at www.scottishrallychampionship.co.uk